"So many bridges have been burned all at once. It's an awful situation, but if it happened to any one of us, the outcome would be the same."
- Dave Logan, of the USC Marshall School of Business, on Sony's Amy Pascal possibly losing her job over racist emails
1961 was the year I was born in South Central, Los Angeles. I met my father and mother, as strangers, when I was 13 and 40, respectively, having only intermittent contact with them after that, to which I blame respectability politics. I can’t remember how many foster homes (some nice, some not) I was “raised” in. I took hellish beatings in them all.
Except for visits to a foster home by the “insurance man,” who my Great Migration “parents” of the time treated like a God, my first interactions with whites came about because it was discovered I was “smart.” By testing well in the 9th grade, I had won the honor, on my first day, of being seated between two white troublemakers the teacher wanted separated. Once I was introduced to the class, and between them, their exchange went like this:
“Hey, Marty, you like niggers?”
“Yeah, I think everyone should own one.”
I immediately got a bad reputation for using my desk - the kind with the chair attached - to bash both of their heads in. I didn’t care. I cared even less when we were punished “equally,” with them being sent home while I was made to wait in detention, until the day was over, and the school bus I caught at 6:30 AM returned we blacks to neighborhoods defined by gun fire.
The first time I was invited to a white person’s house, unexpectedly, my friend’s mother took one look at me, clapped her hands together and exclaimed, “Excellent: we’re having fried chicken for dinner!” My friend, mortified, hustled me to his bedroom, where I sat alone, surrounded by posters of his white heroes, as the two of them apparently discussed proper comportment.
“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys.”
- President Barack Obama, on what awaits the dark and successful
- Attorney General Eric Holder, on police abuses
Out to sea, I served under a redneck who also liked to throw knives, and - since he signed my progress reports - made it one of my jobs to return them. He, and another white guy who never rose above E-1, knew more about the ship than the Captain. Together, they smuggled drugs onboard at every port, eventually resulting in an investigation into why so many sailors were jumping over-board (myself included) and hoping it wasn’t merely that we were one of the first crews forced to endure an extended deployment of 9 months at sea, during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
I spent the last 8 months of my enlistment in the brig, having developed the nasty habit of clocking officers, in an unsuccessful bid to cancel my enlistment. I spent most of that time in solitary confinement, next to an extremely violent black guy named “Green,” who required six guards to escort him to the showers. I admired him, and he admired my singing voice, requesting I serenade him to sleep each night with songs I made up on the spot. It was a talent I hardly knew I had.
"I was socialized well into adulthood. I was in the Navy nine years. I was formed before I started to do this. So, I think people that grow up their whole lives and were practicing their whole lives in the basement are different. Also, I was a severe stutterer until I was nearly 30,…I wasn't socialized to where that was how I validated myself.”
- Bill Withers, interviewed in Rolling Stone, after his nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When I finally went solo in the early 90s, wholly rejecting respectability politics as “The Crack Emcee,” my work was first positively reviewed by the LA Weekly. Later, the writer said he’d gotten some push-back for covering me favorably, and was told if he ever did again, he’d be restricted from new releases by the record company. He apologized if he’d hurt my prospects, but, as a black man, he was also afraid for his own:
Last I’d heard, that writer - a "smart" and talented guy - was sleeping in his car.
”White Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves,…
…If everyone’s wages were growing, and if everyone felt secure enough in their jobs to quit every now and again in search of better opportunities elsewhere, I doubt that we’d be talking quite so much about white privilege,…”
BTW, it was Sony that was so turned off by the idea of helping me, or anyone who understood the implications of my work.
But, as I sit here in a homeless shelter, remembering and writing this - I finally am happy to say - that feeling is now so totally mutual,….